Festive & frugal

While a white Christmas is never guaranteed, we can contribute to a greener holiday season by engaging in eco-friendly gift-wrapping practices.

As December quickly nears, tri-state business owners shared creative ideas for sustainable alternatives to traditional wrapping paper.

Kristina Beytien, owner of Upcycle Dubuque, described the holiday season as “notoriously wasteful.” She pointed to the holiday practice of group gift-wrapping events in which friends and family purchase new decorative boxes, bows and paper to prepare for the holidays together.

Beytien suggested that gift-givers should maintain these holiday wrapping events, but that they should consider hosting them in more eco-friendly ways.

Furoshiki, the Japanese art of folding fabric around gifts, is one such alternative. Beytien suggested using pieces of scrap fabric, whether they are from the end of the bolt or something one might find in the closet, in order to give gifts a personal touch.

It also might become the start of a more eco-conscious holiday tradition.

“The Japanese actually pass down the same fabrics they use year after year and those fabrics become family heirlooms,” Beytien said.

She also suggested that gift-givers make fabric bags. Not only does it add an additional gift to the recipient’s haul, “making them is a lot of fun, too,” Beytien added.

If you do not have pieces of cloth laying around, Upcycle Dubuque has a vast amount of fabric available. Beytien recommended that consumers visit their local secondhand shops in order to take advantage of these gently used materials “instead of contributing to the waste stream.”

Rylynn McQuillen, owner of Fig Leaf in Dubuque, suggested that re-purposing is key to enjoying an eco-friendly holiday season.

“There is too much stuff in the world,” McQuillen said. “We have to try and utilize what we already have.”

Her suggestion to consumers is to “get a cute basket” in order to transport and style gifts. McQuillen added that the gift’s recipient can reuse the basket for their gift-giving or re-purpose it as home décor.

Some of Fig Leaf’s gift items are meant for re-purposing.

“A candle isn’t just a candle,” McQuillen said. “We have candles in our store that once they burn down, you keep the glass. It could be a pencil holder. It could be a makeup brush holder. It really could be anything.”

She also suggests that gift-givers can attach decorative notes to new items describing ways that the recipient can reuse them in their home. Additionally, Fig Leaf sells cigar boxes, farmers market baskets and other items that could serve as gift wrap and gift.

Stormy Mochal, co-owner of Outside the Lines Art Gallery in Dubuque and Galena, Ill., echoed these suggestions, emphasizing that “good ideas come from reusing things.”

She suggested purchasing one-of-a-kind towels and scarves from local artists that could function as environmentally friendly gift wrap. According to Mochal, these artistic pieces also are “functional items that would be part of the gift.”

In addition to increasing the uniqueness of the present, these items would contribute to a zero-waste effort during holiday wrapping.

Mochal also suggested looking around the house to discover more ways to wrap your presents beautifully, generate less waste and involve your children in the effort.

According to Mochal, artists are “constantly thinking about how to make something out of something else.” She points out that brown paper bags and newspapers can contribute to the character of a gift when re-imagined as wrapping material. Creating wrapping paper by decorating brown paper bags, Mochal suggested, could be a “fun project for the kid. (They can create) thumbprint animals or snowmen with some paint.”

She also proposed using rubber stamps and a variety of inks to decorate household bags and paper.

Another idea is to use materials such as the comics or crosswords section of the local newspaper for additional low-budget gift-wrapping. They have eye-appealing designs, can be recycled after the holidays are over and are easy on the wallet.

All three local businesswomen agree that reusing, re-purposing and recycling everyday materials support efforts that can help make the coming holiday season an environmentally friendly one. And, while we cannot often control the number of new bags, bows and tissue paper we will accumulate as gift receivers, Mochal suggested applying an eco-friendly mentality to these bits and pieces with an eye toward the future.

“Save them,” Mochal said. “The less resources we use, the better it is for all of us.”

Emily Boge is a student at Clarke University.

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